Ramblin' Man Fair Day 1

Friday 19th July 2019

Mote Park, Maidstone

Ramblin' Man Fair (not festival.....?) is back and it's back in black. The Rock, Blues, Prog, Country and Metal festival (sorry - fair) returns for the fifth time to the beautiful country parklands of Mote Park in Maidstone. Day 1 sees a stripped down 'lite' version of the main event with just one main stage open - the Planet Rock Stage - and five acts to tickle our fancies. And black are the clouds hovering above us which doesn't bode well. What we need is something to lighten the day and get us revved up for the weekend.
 
Openers The Lazys are just the ticket. Hailing from Sydney, the five piece Australian Rockers give instant vibes of other well known Australian Rock bands (more of which on Day 3). That is no bad thing as, far from being stereotypical, they bring all the unbridled, rough and ready Rock tones that says up yours to the world but with a huge smile and endless joy and energy. Their 2018 album was called 'Sleaze Roxx' - i guess that says it all. Frontman Leon Harrison is pumped and saunters around the stage trying to outshine the awesome Rock sound of the Les Paul and Telecaster blasting out through their Marshall JCM800 amps delivering that Classic Rock sound. Oh, and they are all dressed completely in black. In fact, if it hadn't been for the red Tele, we might have lost them in the gloom. The rain started but nobody cares as we Rock along in fine form and cheer them mightily as their short thirty minute slot is over oh too soon. Well done Ramblin' Man Fair - great choice of how to open a weekend. And well played the Lazys - you did yourselves proud.
 
Second act up is the rapidly rising star that is Kris Barras. Kris has really become prominent in the last couple of years with endless tours and festivals and has become the darling of the Planet Rock world. Today he brings a full backing band including keyboards and two female backing vocalist to compliment his extremely fine guitar playing skills. Oh, and everyone is dressed completely in black. Not that I would dare to take issue with the ex-cage fighting Bluesman. With both knuckles tattooed with the word 'BOOM' across each finger, Kris looks like he is more likely to hit you with the rich assortment of guitars he wields than the notes that he can wring from them, but he is an extremely skilful player with a soulful feel that shows that looks can be deceiving. The short set is a slower Bluesier set than the opening rockers but pleases the crowd nonetheless. There is something for everyone here. With a new album out in September and a headline tour we are treated to a few new tracks including the current single 'Light It Up' and 'Vegas Son'. Closing track sees Kris bring out his trusty blond Tele for a little slide action on the excellent 'Hail Mary'. This fella is going to go far.
 
Next up on stage are FM, the 80's Rock band with original members Merv Goldsworthy, Pete Jupp and Steve Overland still going strong. The five piece were all wearing black except vocalist Steve Overland who clearly didn't get the memo. Opening with 'Black Magic' from their 2018 album 'Atomic Generation', the band quickly got into their stride of radio friendly Rock that has seen them become firm favourites. The songs keep coming with tracks like 'That Girl', 'Life Is A Highway' and 'I Belong To The Night' blasted out with skill and precision. And all washed down with equal quantities of fine ales from the local beer tents and the Kent rain. Very tasty. Closing track 'Killed By Love' comes all to soon as their short set is brought to an end far to prematurely and they have to leave the stage. Premature evacuation is such a cruel thing....
 
Next up, and back to the edgy vibe, are the Wildhearts with the ever charismatic frontman Ginger. Can you guess what they were all wearing? You guessed it. But colour is never an issue with this bunch as Ginger is Mr. Colourful as are the two hollowbody guitars that he and guitarist CJ sport. They help give the Wildhearts their distinctive Punky sound although at the occasional expense of some ear splitting feedback. The Wildhearts are one of those bands from back in the 80's/90's that were always on my Wallkman (kids - Google it) so it was a happy set for me as the short set contained so many classics. Opening track 'Dislocated' had Ginger growling the lyrics like some death Metal God but his usual golden Geordie lilt was more evident as the et list continued with tracks like 'Everlone' and 'Vanilla Radio'. But it's jump around like a nutter tracks like 'Sucker Punch' and 'Sick Of Drugs' that get my blood pumping. They still have that edge that gives me the anarchistic shivers. Ginger is good with the banter too - it's a Geordie prerogative - so the crowd go from chilled to manic and back again at his whim. There is some new stuff too from the recent album 'Renaissance Men'. 'Let Em Go' is "about letting go of the wankers in your life" says Ginger. It's the staccato Punk style track you would expect and marvellous for it. The ever popular 'Caffeine Bomb' has the fists pumping the air whilst 'My Baby Is A Headfuck' is another classic that gets us all singing. Closing track 'I Wanna Go Where The People Go' is a blinder as always and allows the boys to bow out in style. Thanks lads, that was top notch.
 
Closing or headline act are The Darkness. A fitting name with all of these black phrases being bandied about but you couldn't have a more inappropriate band name today. Whilst the dark clouds give way to night time, The Darkness arrive in a blaze of glory - to the sound of bagpipe music? Frontman Justin Hawkins wears his trademark white outfit whilst bassist Frankie Poullain wears a striking black and pink pin striped number. Such a shy bunch of fellas... Opening track is appropriately 'Black Shuck', screamed at full falsetto goodness, whipping the crowd into full fun mode. It is noticeable that most of the previous artists appear in the audience to enjoy the show. There is something quite joyful about watching these irreverent naughty schoolboys making some killer Rock sounds. With brother Dan on lead guitar, the Hawkins siblings both play Les Pauls through Marshall amps to give that Classic Rock tone. But it's all about Justin. We are the motherfucking Darkness he yells - no kidding. And tonight no mother is safe. With pyrotechnics and fireworks to the fore, the band launch into a set of crowd favourites like 'Really Growing On Me', 'Open Fire', 'Love Is Only A Feeling' and 'One Way Ticket'. It is just excellent. Justin works the crowd with his completely inane but hugely enjoyable banter whilst the band watch on with resigned amusement. 
 
Frankie does get to open 'One Way Ticket' with some obligatory cowbell but it's the Justin show really. We are offered a competition to win a small piece of Frankie which requires copious quantities of screaming from the crowd. I'm not sure who won or which bit they got. 'Barbarian' again allows the crowd to try and match Justin's falsetto. I think I managed an off key Tenor and that was just what I paid for my beer with. We are also treated to some newer tracks like 'Japanese Prisoner Of Love' from their 2018 album 'Pinewood Smile'. And they have a new album out in October called 'Easter Is Cancelled' - so lots more new stuff on the way. Justin disappears briefly whilst the band jams only to reappear in an outrageous denim blue coloured velour jumpsuit with matching hat. Freddie Mercury would have been jealous. And Justin has the crowd bouncing BEFORE he launched into the closing 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love'. And bounce we did, all the way to the end.
 
Disappearing briefly, the band reappear for the final encore of 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' with an audience participation section involving the words "Mother" and "Fucker" in varying tones, pitches and styles. I think Justin won that sing-off competition but only just. Oh how we all love to scream profanities. Closing track 'Love On The Rocks With No Ice' sees the boys just give it everything with Hawkins performing headstands in front of the drums, admiring his form on the huge TV screens and then takes to the crowd with his trusty white Les Paul on the shoulders of a bouncer. With a final flourish of pyrotechnics the Darkness are done. Now that is how a night's live music should finish. So we head off into the night - go back in black if you like - with a great days entertainment ringing in our ears. How will day 2 fare after that? Let's hope the weatherman has some better news for us.
 
Mother (pictures courtesy of Rockrpix)

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